Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

Hello again! Long time no see.

I spent most of my month’s absence in France, eating delectable cuisine, soaking up sun, exposing myself to different experiences, and reading many, many books. And not once during my three and a half week trip did I check my email or log onto Facebook or read any blogs. (I did look up some travel information and Wikipedia pages on the internet, and that was about it.)

I hadn’t unplugged myself so thoroughly for quite some time, and I found quite a lot of value in it. Space to just be. Time to think about whatever I wanted to think about. Permission to be in my own present moment, whatever that happened to look like. And perhaps most refreshing, a break from most external stress.

Sometimes that’s what we want from vacations: a break from our regular lives and some of our ongoing problems, giving us a chance to recharge. Sometimes this leads to personal epiphanies, and sometimes it leads to a chance to rest. Both are valuable.

A relaxed Amy in Carcassonne.

A relaxed Amy in Carcassonne.

Taking a break from social media also reminded me afresh how much I appreciate my friends and colleagues. While I didn’t find myself overly tempted to log in, I thought about my friends a fair amount. I wondered how they were doing, and I wished I could send them little texts telling them how fabulous they are. I’m so grateful for the technology that allows me to stay connected with the people who mean so much to me.

That’s probably my greatest takeaway from my time without internet: technology is wondrous, but I’m allowed to use it on my own terms. Writers hear so often about they have to be on this social media site, or that new shiny one, or write blog posts every day, or whatever the latest trend is. But the truth is that in order to continue to do any of those things, we have to find the value in what we’re doing. We have to recognize the amazing feeling of being able to stay close to people who we can’t see face-to-face all the time. We need to appreciate the ability to connect in different ways with our readers and find the way(s) that work best for us.

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. When we hate a thing or secretly resent it, we aren’t going to be doing our best work. A grudging connection has a different quality to it than one that is celebrated.

When I look behind all the best writer social media strategies, I see people who care. They care about their audiences. They care about providing something meaningful, whether that be information or entertainment or connection. Genuine caring is hard to fake. So our job, then, is to find a way to use social media that allows us to project our caring outwards, while still being able to take care of ourselves.

So how do I feel after my social media time off? Well, right now I’m jet lagged, and I have a head cold, so I’m not exactly feeling refreshed. But I’m so proud of myself for taking the break I needed.

And guess what? Nothing terrible happened. The blog continues. My friends and colleagues are still here. No crises occurred that needed my personal attention. The world doesn’t actually require my constant attention to keep turning.

Sometimes a reminder of that can be a very good thing.

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It didn’t occur to me when I started this blog three years ago (THREE YEARS, WOO!) that every year, I’d have two posts back to back about birthdays. I was newly returned home after attending the Taos Toolbox writers’ workshop, and I was rearing to start this new project I had in mind: a blog called the Practical Free Spirit, about…well, I wasn’t really sure what it would be about. Mostly I was sure that I was excited to give it a try.

Since that time, I have written three hundred twenty-three posts. This one you’re reading right now is number three hundred twenty-four. If you multiply that number by ten, you’ll have some idea of how many comments have gone through this site. (Arithmetic! It is surprisingly fun!)

What did I do on my blog's birthday? I went to a fancy tea!

What did I do on my blog’s birthday? I went to a fancy tea! (Technically it was to celebrate MY birthday, but I won’t tell the blog if you won’t.)

I have written about a variety of subjects, many of which I never would have guessed I’d ever write about when I started the blog. I’ve written about things I didn’t want to write about, and I haven’t written about things I did want to write about. I’ve tried to strike a balance that is personal but not too personal, which, as it turns out, requires a fair amount of skill. I’ve also tried to keep things mixed up enough to stay interesting. (I’ve succeeded in keeping myself interested, in any case, which is critical for this blog continuing to exist, so I’m going to call that a win.)

This blog has thoroughly woven itself into the rhythms of my days. If it’s a Monday or a Wednesday, I’m writing an essay. If it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, I’m telling you all that I wrote it. If it’s a Friday, I’m wondering what in the world I’m going to write about next week. And then I start the process over again.

Anyone who reads this blog eventually learns how much I love it. That love has changed over the years, but it hasn’t faded. Sometimes it is a difficult love: when I don’t know what to write about, or when I’m feeling pressed for time, or when I don’t express myself as well as I hoped I would. And sometimes it is a dazzling love: when I get feedback by comment or email or conversation that something I said resonated or helped somebody, when I get to talk about subjects I think are very important, when I get to create art.

Thank you for coming along for the ride. I can’t wait to see what the blog has in store for us in the next year.

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A sex columnist and a children’s book writer went out on a first date. The conversation flowed, the chemistry was palpable…but ultimately the children’s book writer decided there couldn’t be a second date. He was afraid his dating a sex columnist wouldn’t work for his career. True story.

I thought of this story again when I read Penelope Trunk’s recent post about being honest about who you are at work, in the context of Jason Collins’ coming out story in Sports Illustrated: “The more you hide, the harder it is to find a job that’s right for you.”

I think a lot about the post I wrote about the distinctions of public, personal, and private, especially when I’m talking to people about social media strategy. Because in order to be genuine, in order to connect with people in a deeper way, it’s often necessary to share some of the personal. But figuring out what’s personal and what’s private isn’t easy. And when the career you love and your private life (or alternate for-money career, as is the case for many artists) don’t quite mesh together, it’s hard to reconcile. Hence the children’s book writer making the tough decision not to date a woman in whom he was interested in order to avoid a later dilemma.

Our society is in the middle of a shift involving the availability of information and the level of connectedness between us. I met a book editor last month who complained about how often his writer Facebook friends posted about their politics and how much this bothered him. A decade ago, this wasn’t an issue. It’s so much easier to avoid talking much politics when you’re going out for drinks with your editor than it is to avoid posting about anything remotely politically every day. And even if you talked about politics over those drinks, that conversation has a different contextual place for both you and the editor than it does in a social media feed.

So we find ourselves wrestling with two related problems: having less control overall over the information the world can access about us, and having more of a platform from which to release our own information about ourselves, which means we have to decide what to say (and what not to say). In addition, we have to deal with the implications of all this information floating around (or the potential of it to be released) to our careers, to our loved ones, to our complicated social landscapes, and in terms of ethics.

Our lives as open books. Photo Credit: Honou via Compfight cc

These issues are exacerbated for artists because of our society’s collective difficulty in considering works of art as something apart from their creators. This is when we begin to see parents objecting to a children’s book because its author is not seen to be of sufficient moral character. I also know people who don’t want to go see the Ender’s Game movie this fall not because they object to any of the material they think they’ll see but because they don’t want to give money to Orson Scott Card. Certainly as content consumers we have every right to decide what art we will and won’t consume, but it is interesting watching the trends towards making that decision based on the creator instead of the work. Why is this change taking place? Because more information about these artists is generally available (both from themselves and from outside sources).

As privacy becomes less possible and we have less control over accessible personal information, it will become increasingly important to use our platforms to tell our own stories about ourselves. As Justine Musk says, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else tells it for you.”

It is going to become harder and harder to hide. Sometimes we might be able to make decisions like that children’s book writer and keep things simpler for ourselves. But other times, what’s at stake will be too important. And perhaps it’s at that point when having the platform and ability to communicate in your own way becomes the most important.

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But first, it’s the time of year when science fiction and fantasy writers begin to mention award season. I’ll make this short and sweet.

I am in my second (and final) year of eligibility for the Campbell Award for best new writer in science fiction and fantasy. You can vote for this award if you are voting for the Hugos. Here is my list of publications to date. I’m happy to send you a copy of anything on that list–just shoot me an email at practicalfreespirit@gmail.com

Also for the Hugos, I can be nominated in the Fan Writer category for my writing on this blog. I recently updated my Best of Blog page to include some blog posts from 2012. And if you’re looking for other people to nominate, I recommend checking out Theodora Goss and Ferrett Steinmetz, both of whom have strong blogs relevant to fandom and our community.

I had four short stories published last year, all of which can be nominated for the Nebulas and the Hugos. The complete list is here, but in my opinion the strongest one is Daddy’s Girl.

And now, for something completely different.

I have something new I’m really excited about. It’s a vlog called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and one of its executive producers is Hank Green of Vlogbrothers fame (he vlogs with his brother, writer John Green).

This vlog combines modern media and storytelling in a way that is special. Its conceit? It’s a modern-day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The main vlog belongs to Lizzie (aka Elizabeth) Bennet, who starts it with her friend Charlotte as a project for her communications masters. We are slowly introduced to the concerns and people of Lizzie’s world, and the acting and writing are both quite strong.

The audience can watch only these main videos and have a great time. However, for those who want more, it’s out there to find. Lizzie’s little sister Lydia starts her own vlog. Charlotte’s little sister Maria does a short series of videos as well. Each of the characters in the vlog has their own Twitter handle, and they tweet at each other and with the audience. (Unfortunately, whoever’s in charge of the Twitter accounts doesn’t understand the technicalities of how Twitter works so the responses aren’t threaded to each other in a way that is easy to read. Still very cool, though.) One of the characters (Jane) has a semi-active Tumblr account. There’s even a fake website of the company Lizzie is about to go visit for an independent study project next week.

Lizzie and Charlotte, dressed up as Lizzie’s parents

I’m fascinated by how the story is being updated to modern times. For example, the proposal of Mr. Collins to Lizzie isn’t exactly what it was in the book, even while it remains true to the spirit. There are plenty of references to catch for those who love Pride and Prejudice. I particularly love how so far the videos are very effective at highlighting the flaws in Lizzie’s character. But even for those who aren’t so into the book, this is a fascinating experiment of a different way of storytelling using a combination of video, websites, and social media.

I don’t know how I avoided hearing about this for so long, but now that I’m all caught up, I’m looking forward to experiencing the serial feel going forward. Another thing I really like about this vlog is how each episode feels complete in itself even while maintaining suspense and forward momentum. When I watch my other favorite web series, The Guild, I am often frustrated by how short each episode seems and how I feel like I’m constantly left hanging (maybe I got spoiled by getting to watch the first five seasons after they were completed, making them more like five movies). In contrast, each episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has its own mini-arc that leaves me feeling satisfied.

I would love love love to be involved in the writing and/or producing of a project like this. Truly fabulous storytelling.

What media are you geeking out over right now?

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My social media book is stalled out right now because of Life, so I’m going to be sharing a few insights on social media for writers here on the blog in the meantime.

One of the most important truths to keep in mind when crafting a social media strategy is this: as writers, most of us are in this for the long haul. We need to pace ourselves so that we can continue to use social media to connect with our audiences over the course of an entire career. We need to find a balance so we don’t impede our own ability to write.

I talk a lot about priorities, and I firmly believe that for most fiction writers, the first priority has to be writing our fiction. Any social media strategy needs to support this goal instead of getting in its way. Otherwise it will prove to be unsustainable over any significant period of time.

So when you are crafting your own personal strategy, keep the following in mind:

1. As writers, we don’t need to do All The Things (or in this case, be on all the sites). Yes, it’s better to be using more than one form of social media. But you don’t need to be active on six or seven different sites. For most of us, that way lies madness (and a severe time crunch). It’s fine to try the newest, hottest thing in social media to see if it has a particular resonance for us, but it’s also fine to drop the services that aren’t pulling their weight. It’s generally better to choose a few places to focus your social media energies, rather than not being able to do a good job anywhere.

2. Assess your time honestly. If you need to manually track your schedule for a while in order to do this, then go ahead and do that. Between day jobs, families, and other commitments, some writers simply don’t have time to regularly blog, for example. Other writers can put aside an hour or so a week for one blog post, and still other writers have time to blog every day. But even very time-crunched writers can squeeze in five minutes most days for Twitter or Facebook. By realistically thinking about the time that is available to you, you can choose which sites to craft the bulk of your strategy around.

3. Choose your ONE top social media priority. Sometimes you’ll be sick, or you’ll have multiple deadlines, or someone close to you will be getting married, or Life. During these times, you might not have the time or energy to use social media as much as you normally do. So choose one social media activity that you’ll try to carry on no matter what’s going on. Only one. Right now, mine is this blog. But you can choose any service you want, depending on your overall strategy. And then when things get hectic or difficult, you can drop everything else and still be maintaining your presence.

What about you? What do you have time for? What sites do you focus on? What is your top social media priority?

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A couple of weeks ago, I was reading over some of my older blog entries. When I’d finished, I sat back and thought, “Huh. That was actually kind of personal.” At least, more personal than I had remembered.

There’s a place where the personal and the important intersect. And we who blog are then called to make a decision: how important is so important that I can’t stay silent about this? In my case, that means I often end up blogging about issues related to people pleasing and boundaries (and occasionally feminism). I know there are lots of people who grew up in dysfunctional families just like I did, who have similar issues, and I know how helpful it can be to know there are others out there in the world dealing with the same kind of thing you’re dealing with. It’s too important for me to stay silent.

This trade-off was brought strongly to mind during this year’s Worldcon, where I was lucky enough to spend some time with Jay Lake. For those of you who don’t know who he is, Jay is a prolific SF/F writer of some note. He also blogs. For the past few years, he has blogged in an unusually open fashion about his difficulties with cancer. He blogs about disease, about mortality, about what he feels his cancer has stolen from him. He blogs about determination, depression, despair, and joy.

He told me he gets more fan mail from his cancer blog than he does from all his published fiction.

Me and Jay at Epic ConFusion this January. Photo by Al Bogdan.

And he pays a price for being personal. I spent time with him at several points during the convention, and every single time, we were approached by people who expressed their sorrow about his health, or asked about it, or gave him their good wishes that he would recover. On the one hand, it was beautiful to see this outpouring of support from the community.

But I looked at him at one point, late-ish in the evening, after a particularly long stream of generic good wishes, and I thought, “This must get completely exhausting.”

And that is the price. Not everyone will be able to look past the cancer and see the man. Because he has blogged so openly about his disease, he can’t necessarily create a veneer of normalcy for himself when at public events like Worldcon. Part of his public identity is linked to his cancer.

But he pays the price with grace, and I admire him so much for doing so. Because it is too important to stay silent. We need to hear about cancer, about illness, about mortality, and about the physical and emotional struggles that come with these oh-so-human things. Our society tends to have dysfunctional attitudes around illness, around death and dying, around grief and loss, and part of changing those attitudes is talking about these things in a frank and open way. And people who have cancer, people who have other serious illnesses, people who have loved ones who are sick, many of them are helped by Jay’s blog, where by writing authentically about his own personal experience, he puts words to so many other people’s experiences.

So I think about this blog, which is perhaps a bit more personal than I had originally intended. And then I think about Jay. And I’m glad to have written about what I think is important.

I’m in fabulous company.


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This week I have a guest post up over at BookLifeNow: So You Want to Start a Blog. I go over different points to think about when you are either starting up a blog or trying to give your current blog a face lift. So if you enjoy reading me talking about social media, you might want to check it out.

And speaking of me talking about social media… I have a new project! And it’s way exciting! (Well, at least if you’re me.) I have started work on a nonfiction book about social media strategies for fiction writers.

Yes, there are already a few books on this subject out there. But not as many as you’d think. And the few I’ve seen start at a really basic level, geared towards people who don’t know how to or are uncomfortable using the internet. (For example: Here’s how you sign up for a Twitter account.)  That’s great and definitely needed, but it’s not necessary reading for all fiction writers. I also don’t agree with all the strategies that are presented. And much of the material you can find on the internet is either geared towards companies or nonfiction writers, or is also fairly basic.

So many options!

So what I’m writing is the book on social media strategy that I wanted to read. A book that is targeted for writers who already have basic internet skills. A book that is lean and not stuffed with extra padding so that you’re not wasting time. A book that goes into depth on the fundamental principles behind social media strategy and content creation as well as giving strategies for specific platforms. And while I am going to be specifically targeting fiction writers, I think much of what I’ll be talking about can also be applied to other creative professionals.

As you know, I write a fair amount about social media on this blog, and I’ve been thinking of writing this book since last year. What pushed me over the edge, however, was working on my guest post for BookLifeNow. I was originally writing an article on the different types of writer blogs, and it kept getting longer…and longer…and then I thought, this would be so much better if I could add a few case studies…. That’s when I realized that first off, what I was writing was not a blog post, and second off, I could no longer put off writing this book about social media.

My plans are still fairly fluid right now. I’m working on this book at the same time as I revise The Academy of Forgetting, which is taking priority (since otherwise I might just not do it). I don’t have a target release date yet, although you’ll all be the first to know when I do. I expect that I’ll be self publishing this book when I am finished with it, to get it out into the world in an efficient manner. My other option is Kickstarter, but I’m not confident I have enough of a base to make that work (feel free to tell me your thoughts about this!)

I’ve been avidly studying all things social media for the past few years, and I’m really looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned. My hope is that I can help fiction writers at all stages of their careers craft personal strategies that are both effective and enjoyable.

If you have any thoughts or ideas about what you’d like to see in such a book, please leave me a comment or drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!

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A month or so ago, Mike Allegra was kind enough to nominate me for a Versatile Blogger Award. Which was like an extra special birthday present for the blog. Thank you, Mike!

Mike blogs himself, of course (hence the award). He is a children’s writer too. And he tells very amusing personal anecdotes in a casual and funny style.

Anyhow, I thought this would be a great time to highlight a few other blogs that are in my own reader that I’ve been enjoying lately.

  1. The Book Smugglers: I’ve been enjoying the Book Smugglers for a long time now. They are my favorite book review blog, and their general tastes fit so well with mine it’s almost spooky. They tend to review YA (and some MG as well) and adult SF/F, as well as a little historical and romance on the side. I don’t agree with every single one of their reviews, but they are always thought-provoking and well-reasoned. I learn both about books I’d like to read and more about writing at the same time. I especially love their “On The Smugglers’ Radar” feature every Saturday about upcoming titles.
  1. Blotter Paper: This is the blog of my writer friend Rahul Kanakia. He writes speculative fiction (and has been published in places of note like Clarkesworld, IGMS, and Redstone) and is about to move across the country to begin an MFA program. He writes a lot about the books he reads, which is interesting because he has very eclectic tastes, so I feel like reading about his reading broadens my own horizons. And he is an astute observer of society as well.
  1. Altucher Confidential: This is a bigger blog about personal development, and it amuses me because James’ personality comes out full force in everything he writes. I don’t always agree with him…in fact, I often don’t agree with him. But his world view is interesting and occasionally he says something that really resonates with me.
  1. Letters From Titan: Racheline Martese writes interesting analysis of pop culture and symbolism in pop culture. Her essays about the TV show Glee have possibly prolonged my viewership of said show, that’s how interesting I think they are. Really, my only wish is that she’d write more.
  1. Captain Awkward: This is my absolute favorite new discovery; even its name snaps with awesome. This blog is an advice column that actually dispenses advice I can usually get behind. (I know, right? Who would have thought that was even possible?) Captain Awkward encourages people to get a backbone, say no when appropriate, get their needs met, and improve their communication skills. I love this blog with all the blog love in my heart.

How about you? Got any favorite blogs you’d like to recommend? I’m always looking for new ones to check out.

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My blog, the Practical Free Spirit, turns two this week. On Saturday, June 30th, to be exact. This is my 223rd post. I just read my first post, Originality: Having Something to Say. I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s not so bad. It sounds like me two years ago, which isn’t, after all, so much different from me now.

Would you like some more data? I’ve taken time off for vacation a few times, but other than that, I reliably post twice a week. I’ve never failed to post when I was planning to do so, although I’ve come close once or twice. The blog gets an average of 105 comments per month (thank you for joining the conversation!). Probably about half of those comments are from me, although I’ve been falling a bit behind in the past few months.

The highest traffic month in the blog’s life was April 2012. The most popular post is What is a Free Spirit?, which is apparently more of a pressing question than I would think. (Thank you, Google Search.) Other popular subjects include those I was afraid to write about, introversion, and cool Star Wars pictures. I am still on a quest to bring some much-deserved cuteness fame to Nala because what good is having a blog if you can’t occasionally cute-bomb your long-suffering readership?

Storm troopers create new lives for themselves fighting crime.

I don’t know much about my readers, actually, except the ones who comment. I wish I knew more. I wonder about you sometimes. It’s a strange sort of intimacy we have because I suspect there’s a significant part of me that you can get to know pretty well if you read regularly. Not the entire me, of course, but an important part. I talk about what I care about here (really, there’s no point in me writing a 500-word essay about something I don’t care about). I talk about what I’ve been thinking about. I link to the most interesting articles I’ve read. Once in a while I get teary-eyed while I’m writing one of these posts because it matters so much to me.

I read articles about what I “should” be doing with the blog, and then I ignore a lot of what I read, because we are friends, you and I. And a lot of those shoulds sound sleazy or cheap or fake to me, and I can’t bear to do them. Not to the blog, which has taken on a life of its own. It depends on me, after all; I breathe life into it. I am responsible for it. Before I started, it didn’t ever occur to me to think of a blog as a living entity, and perhaps many blogs aren’t. But this one–well, it just might be.

I am going to ask for a birthday present now, for me or for the blog, or for both of us. Satisfy my curiosity, leave a comment, and tell me about yourself. Who are you? What do you like about this blog? What do you wish I’d do more or less of? What are you glad that I don’t do (and you hope I never start)? What subjects do I talk about that give you a burst of satisfaction?

I would really like to know whatever you’d like to tell me.

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